October 24, 2000
President William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Clinton,
We appreciate your involvement in the growing concerns about an unapproved variety of genetically engineered corn that has contaminated the human food supply. A number of food companies have recently withdrawn several products over concerns that StarLink, a genetically engineered crop approved only for animal feed, has contaminated their corn supply. Some of the nation’s largest food makers are facing production problems due to their inability to find uncontaminated corn.
When a Kraft Foods product was found contaminated with StarLink corn, the company took responsible action by voluntarily recalling the product. Later, when the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the positive test result, the agency ordered a Class II recall. FDA defines a class II recall as “a situation in which use of, or exposure to, a violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote.”
We are very concerned about recent reports suggesting that foods now found to be contaminated with StarLink may be treated differently than the Kraft product. According to press reports, a “solution” to the problem of StarLink contamination now being considered by government officials is to exempt StarLink from the requirement for a tolerance, for food as well as feed uses. This would allow an unlimited amount of StarLink corn in the food supply. It would be unacceptable to approve this genetically engineered product in the human food supply simply for the convenience of industry. Any such action would show a troubling disregard for consumer protection that could only further erode consumers’ confidence in our regulatory system for biotechnology products.
The biotechnology industry was permitted to sell StarLink to farmers on the condition that systems were in place to insure that the corn was used only for animal feed or industrial use. Mounting evidence shows that many farmers were unaware of the restrictions when sold StarLink seed. StarLink seed bags and seed contracts apparently confirm that many farmers were not informed of the restrictions agreed to by industry. As a result, StarLink corn has pervasively contaminated the food supply.
The industry must not now be rewarded for violating the law by an after-the-fact approval of a potentially dangerous product.
Scientists have concerns that StarLink corn could trigger potentially dangerous allergic responses in people. There is no known history of human dietary exposure to the Cry9C protein produced in StarLink corn. Moreover, the concentration of this protein in StarLink seeds is up to 100 times that of the Cry proteins found in other engineered corn varieties. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) review of StarLink found that many of the allergenicity data submitted on StarLink were “either inconclusive or indicate that Cry9C exhibits some characteristics of known allergens.” There is no known safe level of allergens in food, as some scientists warned EPA just last Friday.
We urgently request your swift and decisive action to insure that EPA does not retroactively approve StarLink corn for human consumption, and to see that FDA takes no action to set tolerance or action levels for Starlink corn. We also ask that you use your influence to insure that biotechnology companies that violate the law are held accountable for losses suffered by farmers and food producers.
Science, not political expedience, should be the basis for regulatory action. We look forward to your leadership in this urgent matter.
John Passacantando, Executive Director
Margaret Mellon, Director of the Food and Environment Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
Jean Halloran, Director
Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union
Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director
Center for Food Safety
Laurel Hopwood, Chair, Genetic Engineering Committee
Rebecca Goldburg, Senior Scientist
Larry Bohlen, Director, Health & Environment Programs
Friends of the Earth
Bill Christison, Executive Director
National Family Farm Coalition
Richard Caplan, Environmental Advocate
State Public Interest Research Groups (State PIRGs)
Ellen Hickey, Program Director
Pesticide Action Network North America
Phil Clapp, President
National Environmental Trust
Niel Ritchie, National Organizer
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
CC: Vice-President Albert Gore
Dr. Jane Henney, Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration
Carol Browner, Chief Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Dan Glickman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture